Chris Getz announced his retirement yesterday. The former White Sox and Royals second baseman was outrighted by the Blue Jays after 28 plate appearances (16 wRC+). In his statement, Getz makes clear that he is ready to move on with his life. Given his performance on the field the last few years, that life probably would not be enhanced by spending a lot of time floating around Triple-A. There are worse fates than retiring from baseball at 30 after 1574 major league plate appearances, even if they were less than scintillating (.250/.309/.307, 66 wRC+ career).
Although Getz’s talents were quite exceptional relative to the world’s population, they were quite unremarkable in the context of professional baseball. There were not really any moments exciting enough to stand out to people outside of his home fanbases (and maybe not even to them). But Getz’ retirement does provide a good occasion to briefly compare his trajectory with that of the other two players involved in the November 2009 trade between the White Sox and Royals that sent Getz and Josh Fields to Kansas City for Mark Teahen. The far-less-heralded Getz somehow outlasted both Fields and Teahen as a major league player.
Of the three, Mark Teahen easily had the most publicity during his career. It started before was even in the majors leagues. In Moneyball (the book), a member of the As’ (who drafted Teahen with the 39th overall pick in 2002) front office is quoted seeing Teahen having the potential to be the next Jason Giambi. Teahen was part of big news again in 2004, when, as part of a complicated three-team climax to the Carlos Beltran Trade Saga between Oakland, Houston, and Kansas City, he went to the Royals along with John Buck and Mike Wood. The Royals wanted Teahen to at least start 2005 in the minors, but an injury to Chris Truby (!) meant Teahen, a top 100 prospect at third base before the season, began the season with the Royals. Things did not go well, as Teahen struggled badly, hitting just .246/.309/.376 (79 wRC+) over 491 plate appearances and looking surprisingly bad at third base. The lack of power from a pretty big player was surprising, garnering attention from Michael Lewis once again in the New York Times.
Teahen struggling again to start the 2006 season, and the frustrated Royals sent him down to the miors work on things. He came back with a vengeance, and destroyed the ball to end the year with a .290/.357/.517 (123 wRC+) line in his age-24 season. It was an exciting time for the Royals, as Alex Gordon and Billy Butler where about ready to come up and Dayton Moore was putting his stamp on the team. In 2007, Teahen shifted to right field to make room for Gordon at third base. He seemed to play good defense, and his baserunning was good as well. However, the power again dropped off, and his plate discipline was not enough to make up for it. Rather than improving in his mid-20s, Teahen was on the decline. His power was mediocre at best, and his walk and strikeout rates were getting worse. Moreover, his defense in the outfield was not great — in that first year it seemed that runners had simply been trying to take too many bases off of him.
After the Royals experimented with him at second just to get him into the lineup, Teahen had another chance at third base in 2009 when Alex Gordon had a major injury, but was Teahen’s defense there was still poor, and his bat was clearly below average. He seemed destined to be no more than a utility player on the corners, and was heading into his third year of arbitration. There were legitimate questions as to whether the Royals should even offer Teahen arbitration after he had beenbelow replacement level two years in a row.
Dayton Moore then surprised everyone by trading Teahen to the White Sox for Chris Getz and Josh Fields. Getz and Fields were no world-beaters, as we will see, but both were pre-arbitration players in their twenties who might be useful. Even more surprising was the White Sox’ decision to sign extend Teahen for three years and $12 million. For a player who looked like a four corners backup, it was a puzzling contract. Teahen was dreadful in 2010 when he was not injured, and was also bad in 2011, during which he was traded to the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays let Teahen go after the season, and he has not seen a major league plate appearance since, although he has had minor league contracts with Washington, Texas, and Arizona. He signed a minor-league deal with the Giants earlier this year, but was released in March.
Teahen had a good reptutation as a prospect, and for a few years in the majors he looked like a useful role player, perhaps even with a shot at stardom after his 2006 showing. Whether it was just a random variation, a case of a player developing in an unusual way, or other factors, things did not work out for Teahen. Chris Getz, of all people, seems to have outlasted him in the majors.
But before we get to Getz, we have to mention Josh Fields, who at times seemed to have more potential than either Getz or Teahen. Josh Fields was a tremendous athlete at Oklahoma State, excelling not only as a third baseman but also as a quarterback. The White Sox drafted him with the 18th overall pick in 2004. Joe Crede was ensconced at third base for the White Sox, so Fields was pretty much blocked unless Crede got hurt, which was pretty frequently for those who remember that far back. Fields Got 418 plate appearances in the majors for Chicago in 2007, and showed impressive power with 23 home runs as part of a .244/308/480 (100 wRC+) line. He was not all that slick at third, though, and his contact issues were apparent. Crede was back in 2008, and Fields spent most of that year in the minors.
Crede left as a free agent and Fields got another shot in 2009, but hit poorly as his power faded while the contact issues remained. He did get 268 plate appearances, but the White Sox brought up their hotshot draft pick Gordon Beckham, who had his one good year. The White Sox wanted to move Beckham to second to replace… Chris Getz, which would seemingly have left third base open for Fields in 2010. Chicago did not see things that way, though, and made the trade for Teahen.
Fields spent almost all of 2010 in the Royals’ minor league system. Kansas City was getting ready to move Alex Gordon (who also spent most of 2010 in the minors) off of third base for good, but with Mike Moustakas (a sure thing superstar!) on the way, there was not room for Fields, who was not hitting all that well in the minors anyway. Fields did get 50 plate appearances in the majors in 2010, but those were the last (so far, at least). Fields has played in the minors for the Rockies, Dodgers, and Phillies organizations since then, as well as in Mexico, but, like Teahen, seems to have faded out.
Which brings us back to the occasion for this post: Chris Getz. Unlike Teahen and Fields, Getz was never a top prospect. Getz was pretty good in AAA in 2007 and 2008. It was nothing spectacular, but the White Sox needed someone to play second base in 2009. Getz turned out to be someone. He hit just .261/.324/.347 in 415 plate appearances, but he ran the bases well (25 stolen bases in 27 attempts) and was around average defensively. With Gordon Beckham seemingly set to be the stud second baseman of the future in Chicago, Getz was apparently expendable and was sent with Fields to Kansas City.
The Royals needed a second baseman a the time, and even if Getz did not seem to be a world-beater, he at least seemed to be a non-embarrassing stopgap who might have the potential to be average until someone from the Best Minor League System Ever, perhaps Johnny Giavotella, was ready to take over. Instead, Getz was, when he was not hurt, terrible. People might want to quibble over his fielding, but the offense tells the tale of his time in Kansas City:
2010: .237/.302/.277, 60 wRC+, 248 plate appearances
2011: .255/313/.287, 66 wRC+, 429 plate appearancs
2012: .275/.312/.360, 81 wRC+, 210 plate appearances
2013: .220/.288/.273, 52 wRAC+, 237 plate appearances
Getz never looked like much more than an “average if he’s lucky” sort of player, but even this had to be surprising. Yet the Royals kept going back to the well. Sure, they sometimes put Getz in platoon with Mike Aviles and Yuniesky Betancourt, but Getz was always there. They really liked Getz, it seemed.
It is easy to criticize the Royals for their loyalty to Getz, and I have. But it is at least arguable that there were not really better options for much of Getz’ time in Kansas City. Don’t get me wrong, I think Johnny Giavotella should have gotten more of a shot in, say, 2011, when the Royals were not playing for anything and Getz was clearly not the answer. But Giavotella simply did not impress scouts all that much, especially in the field, and when he did get short shots in the majors, he dropped the ball. Heir-apparent Christian Colon, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, had never been good in the minor leagues, either.
Without faith in Giavotella, and with Colon not even putting up Giavotella-like numbers in the minors, the Royals finally gave up on the Getz dream after the 2013 season, opting to sign Omar Infante to play second base. Getz had a few plate appearances for the Blue Jays this year, but decided to call it a career rather than go back to the minors.
Getz was at least a decent defensive second baseman who did not have the arm to play shortstop, which might have helped him stick around a bit longer as a utility player. He had some skill no the bases, but it was not enough to make up for his utter lack of power. Nor did have have the other skills to make up for that lack of power. Still, whether a testament to Getz’ ability to look good, work hard, get along with people in the clubhouse, or just the dearth of second baseman in certain organizations, he was able to hang around in the majors a few years longer than once-top prospects like Teahen and Fields. That must mean something, even if we don’t know what that something is.
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